Mayor de Blasio Announces 18% Drop in City Jail Population Since Taking Office

March 23, 2017

Jail population reaches record lows during safest year in CompStat history

NEW YORK—Mayor Bill de Blasio today announced that the New York City jail population has fallen by 18% since taking office, outpacing any three year decline since 2001. The average daily population declined from 11,478 in December 2013, just before Mayor de Blasio took office, to an average of 9,362 this month. In the last year alone, the jail population has fallen by 6% from 9,981 in March of last year. This drop was largely driven by intentional efforts to reduce the number of people who go into jail and how long they stay while protecting public safety.

“The number of people incarcerated in the U.S. did not fall in the last year, and our nation’s incarcerated population remains the largest in the world,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “But New York City has a different story to tell – we are making every effort to ensure that people who do not need to be behind bars are not, all while keeping crime at historic lows. In the last three years, we’ve been working from every angle to keep lower-level offenders out of jail and speed up case delays, and the total jail population has dropped 18% and the population just at Rikers Island has sunk 23% – that’s significant progress.”

Key achievements:

  • New York City is unique proof that we can have both more safety and smaller jails.
    • The City’s jail population has fallen to the lowest in decades alongside record crime lows: 2016 was the safest year in CompStat history, with homicides down 5%, shootings down 12%, and burglaries down 15% from 2015. Both crime and use of jail have been falling steadily in New York City for twenty years: major crime has declined by 76% and the average daily jail population has been reduced by half over the last 20 years. 
  • New York City’s use of jail is among the lowest nationally
    • While jail and prison populations grew by 11% nationally between 1996 and 2013, NYC’s jail population declined by 39%. New York City’s use of jail is among the lowest nationally (167 individuals detained per 100,000 residents), lower than Los Angeles (263/100,000), Chicago (281/100,000), and the national average (341/100,000).
  • New York City leads the nation in the number of defendants who are in the community instead of in jail while their case is being resolved
    • Over 70% of defendants in New York City are released without any conditions after their first appearance before a judge. This is nearly double the percentage of Washington, D.C., the next highest user in the county of release without conditions.
  • New York City has significantly reduced its jail population while simultaneously focusing enforcement resources on serious, violent crime.
    • In 2015, arrests for murder were up 16% and gun arrests were up 10.5%.
    • The proportion of the jail population detained on violent offenses has increased by 56% over the past 20 years, even while the overall population has dropped precipitously.
  • New York City has dramatically reduced detention for those charged with drug and other low-level misdemeanors.
    • Between 1996 and 2016, the number of people held on felony drug charges declined by 78%, and the number of people held on misdemeanor drug charges declined by 62%. These trends have accelerated in the last three years: the number of jail admissions for misdemeanor detainees has dropped by 25% since 2014. 

“New York, singularly among the nation’s large cities, has reduced the size of the jail population even while reducing crime,” said Elizabeth Glazer, Director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice. “Jails hold up a mirror to the fair functioning of society and reflect how the many different parts of the criminal justice system, and New Yorkers themselves, affect whether the population grows or shrinks. The significant progress over the last three years to reduce the number of people who enter jail and how long they stay is a shared success, possible because of the close coordination of every part of the criminal justice system and the participation of New Yorkers in keeping crime low.”

Department of Correction Commissioner Joseph Ponte said, “The many strategies NYC is using to reduce the numbers of individuals who end up in jail help us in our drive to create a culture of safety in our facilities. In particular, reducing the number of short stays and people with mental health needs and low-level drug charges allows us to focus on managing serious offenders and persistently violent inmates. Such strategies increase safety for all New Yorkers.” 

Key strategies:

To achieve these reductions while ensuring New York City remains the safest big city in the United States, the City has implemented an array of strategies including:

Reducing the Number of People Who Enter Jail

New York City is taking various steps to reduce reliance on money bail and jail time for low-risk individuals, while the number of people detained on bail of $2,000 and under has fallen by 36% in the last three years. 

Results

  • Expanded community-based alternatives to jail: Supervised Release – a bail alternative program that gives judges the option of allowing eligible, low-risk defendants to remain home with their families and continue working while waiting for trial – has diverted over 3,000 people from jail since the program was launched in March 2016. 
  • Reduced short stays in jail: About 11,000 people were detained on bail for less than one week in 2015. To make it easier to post bail more quickly, and thus reduce these short jail stays, the City is installing ATMs in every courthouse to ensure people have easy access to cash to post bail, and is also rolling out an online bail payment system.
  • Reduced the number of people with behavioral health needs in City jails: After increasing steadily for five years, the number of people with behavioral health needs in City jails has fallen by 5% in the last two years following the implementation of the Mayor’s Action Plan on Behavioral Health and the Criminal Justice System

Reducing the Length of Jail Stay

Detainees awaiting trial at Rikers for long periods of time are the single biggest driver of the City’s jail population. 

In April 2015, the Mayor’s Office, the courts, the city’s five district attorneys and the defense bar launched the Justice Reboot initiative to clear the backlog of old cases and reduce case delay in a lasting, systemic way.

Results

  • Cleared the existing backlog: 93% of the 1,427 cases that were more than a year old when Justice Reboot was announced have been resolved. 50% of those cases were cleared within the first 4 months of the initiative.
  • Reduced case length for the first time in decades: The length of Supreme Court cases has been reduced by an average of 18 days.
  • Dramatically reduced the number of oldest cases: Since Justice Reboot was launched, the number of cases older than three years has been reduced by half.

Reducing Repeated, Short Stays in Jail 

Individuals serving frequent, short jail sentences on low-level offenses tend to be dealing with chronic homelessness and behavioral health needs. In New York City, this relatively small number of people consumes a disproportionate share of shelter, jail and emergency room resources. The 400 “highest use” individuals among this population entered the City’s custody an average of 12.42 times over four years, with each stay averaging 30 days. 

In 2016, New York City has targeted this “frequent use” population with various interventions, including permanent supportive housing, which has been shown to reduce returns to jail by 38% and to save $16,000 per individual in annual jail, shelter, and emergency room costs.

Results:

  • Reduced chronic recidivism: 97 individuals who are among the highest users of jail in New York City have been placed in permanent supportive housing. Collectively, these individuals have served over 36,000 days in jail and spent over 22,000 days in shelter over the last five years. Permanent housing, coupled with supportive services to help these individuals stabilize, will save the City an estimated $1.6 million annually through reduced hospital visits, shelter admissions, and trips to jail.

The City will rollout additional strategies in the coming weeks to continue reducing the number of people who enter jail. 

Two new reports are available today that give additional detail on the jail population and opportunities for reduction: a study from the Center for Court Innovation, commissioned by the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, thoroughly examines the baseline jail population in 2014 when Mayor de Blasio took office, available here; and a complete data breakdown of the current jail population and opportunities for further reduction, released today by the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.

Former Chief Judge of the State of New York Jonathan Lippman said, "The drop in the City's jail population is worth celebrating. This doesn't happen by accident. Rather, it is the product of a sustained focus by the Mayor's Office and others to rethink business as usual and improve justice. In New York City, we have shown, contrary to conventional wisdom, that you can promote public safety without increasing the use of incarceration.”

Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown, “I join with Mayor de Blasio in acknowledging the significant drop in our City’s jail population. The sharp decline offers clear and compelling evidence that our law enforcement initiatives continue to have a profound impact in making Queens County and our City one of the safest places in the nation. I believe that one of the contributing factors responsible for the decline in the jail population is the broad array of alternative and cost-effective sentencing programs we offer here in Queens, such as, for example, our felony and misdemeanor Drug Treatment Courts, our DWI Treatment Court, our Mental Health Court – and Courts that respond to the needs of our youthful offenders as well as our returning veterans. These programs are an effective way to reduce recidivism by treating the underlying problems that fuel criminal behavior.”

Acting Brooklyn District Attorney Eric Gonzalez said, “I commend the Mayor for his focus on reducing the jail population on Rikers Island. In Brooklyn, we have contributed to that effort by significantly reducing the number of detainees awaiting trial, and by focusing on strategies to reduce crime. This approach results in a safer workplace for Correction Officers and inmates, and keeps our streets safe at the same time.”

State Senator Velmanette Montgomery said, "I am very happy that Mayor de Blasio has made this worthwhile investment in reducing the jail population by addressing the underlying needs of defendants. When we provide those involved in the criminal justice system with assistance we are rewarded with safer, more productive communities and significant savings to the City. I look forward to the Mayor’s continued support of community based alternatives to incarceration, especially for youth. We are fortunate to have nationally recognized programs such as the Red Hook Community Justice Center and DREAMS Youthbuild. I hope that our efforts to Raise the Age at the state level will be successful and keep our children out of Rikers and other jails which would contribute to driving this number down even further."

Assembly Member David Weprin, Chair of the Committee on Correction, said “New York, our nation’s most populous city, has the unique challenge of managing a large jail population, while also ensuring the safety of people in prisons and public protection” said Assemblyman David Weprin, Chair of the Assembly Committee on Correction. “By reducing the jail population in New York while overseeing a decrease in violent crime, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Commissioner Joseph Ponte prove that it is possible to reform our criminal justice system while protecting everyday New Yorkers from violent crime.”

Assembly Member Luis Sepulveda said, “As chairman of the Assembly Subcommittee on Transitional Services, which deals with post-release issues and services for former inmates, this is an issue of great importance to me. I can't say I am surprised at the results of this multi-pronged approach to dealing with the city's jail population. It is not the first major issue that Mayor de Blasio has tackled in this city that is showing positive results -- as I am sure he will be successful with a number of other efforts already under way or to come during his administration.”

“I congratulate Mayor de Blasio on reducing the city’s jail population by 16% since the start of his administration. I am particularly impressed by the work they have done towards reducing the number of people with behavioral health needs in jail, through alternatives to incarceration, ensuring available and accessible community services, and more mental health programs through Thrive NYC. As Chair of the Committee on Mental Health and Substance Abuse, I applaud such a significant impact, because it means people are being treated outside instead of ending up inside Rikers Island, which for too long has been the default hospital of last resort,” said Council Member Andrew Cohen, Chair of the Committee on Mental Health, Developmental Disability, Alcoholism, Substance Abuse, and Disability Services.

“A comprehensive and measured approach to managing our jail population makes the community safer,” said Council Member Stephen Levin. “One size does not fit all. Allowing our judges more discretion results in more fair and just outcomes. For some individuals, community-based supervised release, or access to mental health care, is more appropriate than a jail cell. No one benefits from needlessly long or frequent jail sentences – not the defendant, not the family, and not the community. The drop in our City’s jail population is directly tied to the administration’s commitment to innovative and public safety centered reform. I applaud the Mayor and hope we can continue making our city safer and more just.”

“By implementing progressive policies that support those who have lost their way or need medical attention, this City has been on the forefront of how to keep crime low while reducing the number we incarcerate” said Council Member I. Daneek Miller. “This has worked for Southeast Queens, and by supporting programs for bail alternatives, reducing backlog, and connecting people with mental support services, we have given some of our most vulnerable citizen’s options they would not otherwise would have had while increasing the quality of life for those communities who have been historically disproportionality by incarceration.”

"New York City's decreasing crime numbers combined with a decreased jail population is a clear sign that incarceration should not always be the go to solution to address crime," said Council Member Donovan Richards, co-chair of the Progressive Caucus. "While we still have a lot more work to do to address the dangerous conditions in Rikers, as well as providing better access to local jobs in low-income communities, lowering the amount of people waiting for trials will be a big boost for families and New Yorkers waiting for their day in court. I'd like to thank Mayor de Blasio for working to address the wrongs of the past caused by policies that focused on mass incarceration."

“Over the past three years, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Liz Glazer, director of the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, have done a splendid job in significantly reducing New York City’s jail population,” said Herbert Sturz of Open Society Foundation. “Importantly, this has been accomplished while increasing the percentage of released detainees who return to court when required.”

“Once again, NYC is the national leader in criminal justice reform. The historic decline in crime rates has now been matched by an equally historic decline in the city’s jail population. The impressive progress achieved over the past three years shows that, with focused attention and creative reforms, the detention population can be driven down even more in years to come,” said Jeremy Travis, President of John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

“It is great news that the over 20 year trend for New York City of simultaneous declines in crime and jail population is continuing,” said Michael Jacobson, Director of CUNY Institute for State and Local Governance and former Department of Correction Commissioner. “The current jail population is less than 10,000 which would have been unthinkable a decade ago and the fact that this decline has been accompanied by historic crime declines is a credit to New York City and is a valuable lesson to the rest of the country on how it is possible to significantly reduce both crime and the use of jail.”

“Overcrowded jails are assumed to be a big city problem. But as today’s announcement shows and New York City’s continuing leadership demonstrates, large cities can be models for how to reduce jail populations while keeping people safe. As jurisdictions nationwide grapple with overcrowded jails that too often warehouse people who can't afford bail, struggle with behavioral health disorders, or serve repeated short stints in jail, New York City’s bold innovations have spurred a significant decline in both crime and the number of people in jail. This benefits taxpayers and allows law enforcement to focus on persistent public safety issues. But most importantly, because of these measures, thousands of New Yorkers and their families have already experienced a more just system. We applaud Mayor de Blasio’s leadership and ongoing commitment to reducing the overuse of jail in New York City,” said Nicholas Turner, President of the Vera Institute of Justice.

Greg Berman, Director of the Center for Court Innovation, said “New York City's jail population is already at an historic low. By continuing to implement concrete reforms in areas such as pretrial decision-making and the handling of low-level offenses, along with increasing the use of proven alternatives to incarceration, the city can safely build on that success.”

“New York City has proven that incarceration and low crime are not linked – and the efforts of the de Blasio Administration continue to demonstrate that truth while maintaining a historic level of safety in our city. Crime has gone down and the jail population with it because we’re attacking crime and its causes more precisely and more intelligently through innovation, strategy and technology. We are also bringing our justice system in line with that way of thinking, acknowledging that jail is not always the answer to crime – and that, in many cases, it actually makes a bad situation worse. The results have been outstanding for New Yorkers and our public safety,” said Richard Aborn, President of the Citizens Crime Commission of New York.

“Young New Yorkers celebrates the Mayor's efforts to significantly reduce the number people being held in jail. By providing diversion programs to 16- to 25-year-olds in the adult courts, who may otherwise be facing jail time, we will continue to support all collaborative-justice efforts to further reduce the use of incarceration, which disproportionately effects our city's young Black and Latino people,” said Rachel Barnard, Founder and Executive Director of Young New Yorkers.

“By launching the Mayor’s Behavioral Health Task Force and by forming the Diversion and Reentry Council, Mayor de Blasio has created a blueprint for the nation as to how to end mass incarceration and replace it with highly successful, efficient and cost-effective community-based alternatives,” said David Condliffe, Executive Director of the Center for Community Alternatives.

“We are pleased and encouraged by the reduction in New York City's jail population. While there is more to be done, this is an important first step in bringing about the sorts of changes that we all agree are needed to transform the City's criminal justice system. Disturbing reports of violence and abuse in City jails are a blight on our society that all of us must take responsibility for changing. These statistics should give us hope that things are starting to turn in the right direction,” said Soffiyah Elijah, Executive Director of Alliance of Families for Justice.

"Effective pretrial reform means ensuring jail beds are filled with only the comparatively small number of individuals for whom no combination of conditions or supervision can reasonably assure they will stay out of trouble before trial and appear in court. New York City should be celebrated for implementing creative reforms like is its Supervised Release program for lower risk people and channeling those who return to jail again and again for minor infractions to alternatives to incarceration that meet their chronic needs, such as permanent supportive housing. These are important steps toward reducing unnecessary incarceration and the use of money bail, which unfairly penalizes poor and working class defendants, wastes taxpayer dollars, and leaves us all less safe," said Cherise Fanno Burdeen, CEO of the Pretrial Justice Institute.

“New York City is succeeding in substantially reducing the jail population while keeping crime rates low,” said Ann Jacobs, Director of the Prisoner Reentry Institute. “This focus on the front end of the criminal justice process brings us closer to our ideals of fairness, legitimacy, and dignity, and a system in which we feel safe and confident.”

“Supervised Release and the expansion of the Bronx Freedom Fund and Brooklyn Community Bail Fund to all five boroughs has created enormous positive change in the lives of our clients. Being home with family, having the ability to go to work or school and not being forced to plead guilty to simply avoid being held at Rikers is critical and reinforces the principles of justice and fairness. We look forward to an expansion of efforts that will continue to increase the number of people released to their communities,” said Tina Luongo, Attorney-in-Charge of the Legal Aid Society.

“Exodus Transitional Community applauds the Mayor on his strategic initiative in reducing the city's jail population while remaining vigilant in his stance on keeping New Yorkers safe,” said Julio Medina, Executive Director of Exodus Transitional Community. “A reduction of 16% is a great start, and as his crime prevention methods become more effectively integrated into our criminal justice agenda, I'm certain we can expect to live in a safer and more just city! Mayor de Blasio, thank you for your courage and discipline in creating humane ways to treat those entangled in our NYC jails. These are historic moments we are witnessing and I'm proud to be a life-long New Yorker who, although once, knew the pangs of a prison cell, is now proud to support you. Diversion, mental health and strengthening the ability of justice involved non-profits to be viable alternatives to incarceration, is the start of building a better and more effective justice system.”

“What is so attractive about the Mayor’s strategy to reduce recidivism and homelessness, both of which directly impact jail stay and population numbers, is his reliance on solutions we know work to keep people housed and improve public safety,” said Kristin Miller, Director of the Corporation for Supportive Housing program that has advised the City of New York on leveraging supportive housing to curtail re-incarceration. “By focusing on frequent users cycling through jail, homeless shelters and then custody again, and embracing a long-term plan that offers them access to affordable housing and services through Justice Involved Supportive Housing, the City is pursuing the right course that will continue to drive the jail population, homelessness and crime rates down.”

Christine Pahigian, Executive Director of Friends of Island Academy, said, "Reducing reliance on detention is a significant step toward restoring dignity and humanity in our City’s justice system, most especially for the youngest and most vulnerable in its custody. The coordinated and effective stances taken to reduce lengths of stay and readmission in NYC over the past 30 months are like no other time in NYC’s history. We applaud Mayor de Blasio for this combination of proactive policy initiatives and hope that City Hall will continue to provide national leadership to ensure jail is used as a last rather than the first resort. The City is rich in neighborhood-based advocates and organizations which are prepared and on hand to support people whose lives could be forever altered by unnecessary detention and custody. Reducing reliance on detention and working with communities is better policy, more cost-effective and the permanent impact on lives is palpable."

Ezra Ritchin, Project Director of the Bronx Freedom Fund, said, “Reducing the jail population not only makes our city safer, as the data show. It also makes our communities more whole. More of New York City's most marginalized can remain in their jobs and neighborhoods, alongside their families rather than behind bars. By continuing to reduce unnecessary incarceration, especially among the pretrial population, we can move towards a smarter, less costly, and more humane system.”

Paul Samuels, President and Director of the Legal Action Center said, "The Legal Action Center applauds New York City’s elected and appointed leaders for taking important steps toward creating a more equitable and efficient criminal justice system. Programs that provide alternatives to incarceration and reentry supports are critical building blocks for meeting the achievable goal of eliminating all unnecessary incarceration”.

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